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City's license plate readers for protection not punishment, KSPD says

Kingston Springs now has a circle of 12 cameras that read and record the license plate numbers of every vehicle that enters city limits.


But don't fret. These devices aren't to catch speeders and erratic drivers or otherwise generate revenue for the municipality.


To find out what they are for and how they work, the Gazette spoke to Sgt. Jeremy Vaughan of the Kingston Springs Police Department (KSPD).


“It's just to catch the criminals who come into our town before they can create more victims,”Vaughan said of the system that's been in operation since October 2022. “It doesn't check for expired tags, vehicle insurance or driver's license status,” he added.


“The camera is motion detected,” Vaughan explained. “As the vehicle passes in front of it, the camera takes a picture of it, and the software is able to read the license plate. What it does then is run that license plate through a national criminal database that every law enforcement agency in the country is required to report to. So when a vehicle gets stolen, let's say, it's entered into the system.”


When a vehicle that's targeted through this data base enters a particular jurisdiction the police there are alerted through what is called a “hit.”


“Whenever we have a hit, it sends a notification through the software on the officer's in-car computer,” Vaughan continued. "Officers can also set it up to receive a text message. The laptop computers in the patrol cars all have internet access. It's about a 30-second [notification] process, which is extremely fast. If a vehicle passes that's connected to some alert, it will text me a picture of the vehicle, give the location of the camera [that detected it] and then the reason for the hit, whether it's a missing person, an amber alert, a stolen vehicle or a terrorist.”


Sometimes the local police will be contacted to watch for a vehicle fleeing a nearby. But statistics show that Kingston Springs is hardly a destination or crossroad for criminals.


“We're averaging 250,000 reads a month,” Vaughan reported, “and about 15 hits a month.” One such hit occurred last month when the police spotted and arrested a North Carolina man who had stolen his mother's truck and fled with his three-year-old son earlier in the day.


Access to the federal data base costs the town nothing, but it does have to pay for the camera service. “There are not currently any grants we meet the criteria for,” Vaughan said. “So we approached our commission, and they budgeted us the money. It comes out to $24,000 [a year].” The fee is all-inclusive and covers such contingencies as camera maintenance, repair and replacement.


Data captured by the license plate readers are stored for 30 days. “It allows us to assist with investigations,” Vaughan explained. “Say there's a home that's broken into on particular road. A neighbor might say, 'You know, I saw a red pickup around noon that day over there, but I just didn't think anything of it.' We can go back and look at the cameras in that vicinity. We can ask the system to show the red pickup trucks in that area, say between 10 a; m; and noon, and it will pop them up for us. Then we can work to see if any of those vehicles might be involved with the crime.”

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